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Air quality monitoring is an increasingly important aspect of personal health. Without any measurable data, it’s pretty tough to get an idea of just how good the air quality in your house is.
Short of calling a local government inspector, your best bet is a piece of dedicated hardware, like this, the Foobot air quality monitor. It’s a connected device that you hook up wirelessly, enabling you to monitor and take control of the air that you breathe in your own home.
It all sounds very impressive, so let’s take a closer look at this $199 device.
What’s in the Box?
Opening the box displays a welcoming heart, bearing the legend “This Foobot likes you already”. Inside the box, you’ll find the device, an attractively designed sculpture made of white, vented plastic, the immediate interior lined with LEDs. Beyond these are hidden the sensors, where the real magic of this wireless-enabled device takes place.
These sensors are capable of detecting every type of indoor air pollution, including:
- Particulate matter: fine particles suspended in the air in the form of solid particles or liquid droplets, which could provoke asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases;
- Gas pollutants: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide (CO2) can prove harmful risks in your home;
- Temperature: maintaining a comfortable and healthy indoor temperature affects your well-being and helps to control the rate of indoor air pollution;
- Humidity: humid environs foster the growth of molds and bacteria, some responsible for illnesses such as the common cold.
Detection and reporting of these pollutants is only part of the Foobot experience, however. Over time, the Foobot learns more about the air in your home and improves its analysis and reporting as it progresses. Also, multi-room support and instant feedback on air quality (through LED illumination) allow you to take action and make changes throughout your home in real-time.
Setting Up the Foobot
As you remove the Foobot from the box, you’re given some very clear setup instructions:
- Plug in your Foobot
- Download Foobot app
- Setup from the app
Sounds straightforward. The Foobot is compatible with 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n wireless networks, so if you have a dual-band router, remember to connect it to the 2.4GHz band.
As with all wireless devices, it helps to perform the initial setup procedure near your router in case troubleshooting is required. Power on the Foobot with the provided USB cable and adapter, then download the mobile app. Follow the prompts to turn the Foobot upside down in order to connect it to your wireless network. When requested, enter your home Wi-Fi password. That should conclude setting up.
If the initial automatic setup process isn’t completed within five minutes of powering on, the device will fallback to manual configuration mode. In this mode, the Foobot will broadcast its own ad-hoc network — connect to it on your smartphone and resume setting up.
The Foobot is a complicated device, so if you run into any issues during operation, rest assured that the developers have a support page on their website that should address most issues. Also, you might want to take a look at their setup video tutorial.
When the Foobot was up and running, I placed it in the preferred position in our living room.
A Look at the App
Using the app is the only way to really see what is going on with the air quality in your home. After installing, you need to create an account and sign in before you’re greeted with a questionnaire about your household (pets, smoking, etc.). The Foobot is able to make a judgement on your habits, and how these might impact the air quality.
Once set up, there are three ways of obtaining a report from the Foobot:
- Open the app on your phone for a full, in-depth look at the figures;
- Tap the top of the Foobot to send an instant summary to your mobile device, where it will be displayed as a notification;
- LED display for instant reading with 6 levels of air quality: 3 levels of blue (good) and 3 levels of orange (bad).
The app itself is easy to navigate. Tapping the figure in the middle of the screen — the Global Pollution — will display how relevant the value is, with anything below 50 considered ‘Good’. Circling this are three segments representing Particulate matter, Volatile compounds and Carbon dioxide. Tapping these in turn will provide similar context.
Further information can be seen by tapping the Graph button, where records from the past few minutes, hours, days or weeks, depending on your selected filter, are logged and presented.
Maneuvering the iOS app is similar.
Also, switching to landscape mode in iOS displays collected data in real-time.
Foobot Through the Week
Using the air quality monitor, it’s become clear that changes to the quality of air in the home come from the most unusual sources. In a household with an asthmatic child, this has proven quite a revelation.
What we’ve noticed is that the Foobot considers a hot, stuffy, poorly-ventilated home a problem. Similarly, cleaning products that release bad chemicals like formaldehyde and other VOCs can send the Foobot’s lights from “good” blue to the “bad” orange level. It also detects commonly-used products like hairspray and deodorant, among others.
But even “natural” products can cause problems. My wife uses tea tree oil to deter school-age hair parasites, for instance, but even this essential oil can affect the air quality in your home.
Remember, however, that Foobot learns over the course of the first week, a useful quality that can avoid false or inaccurate results. Foobot will try to identify the source of the indoor pollution then suggest ways to eliminate it.
Get IFTTT Alerts from Foobot
A nice feature of the Foobot is the IFTTT integration. To set this up, head to meet.foobot.io/ifttt and select the IFTTT recipe you want to use with the device. Note that you’ll need to be signed into IFTTT for this to be added; accounts are free if you don’t already have one (why not?!).
Read more about connecting your Foobot with IFTTT.
With the recipe selected, connect the necessary IFTTT channels and you’re ready to start. Several options are available here.
For instance, if you have a Nest system, when poor air quality is detected by the Foobot, ventilation can be activated. Alternatively, you might use the device to note pollution spikes in your calendar, or record air quality in a spreadsheet. Alerts can be sent when air quality is poor, and you can even tweet your results.
At the time of writing, Foobot and IFTTT can be integrated in six ways, with more no doubt likely in future.
What You’re Going to Learn with Foobot
Your home is a mess. Even if it’s crystal clear, shiny, with no dust on the floor, regularly swept and vacuumed, and ventilated, you’re still going to be surprised by the results that Foobot delivers, as it uncovers the unclean secrets of your domestic bliss: dirty air!
In all seriousness, it really is an eye-opening experience, having this blue and amber sentinel watching over your air quality, day-in, day-out, updating you with charts and advice. It’s useful stuff too, suggesting ways in which air quality can be improved e.g. increase ventilation and perhaps purification.
Useful Hardware, Easy to Use
Having spent a week with the Foobot, and seen it in action, we’ve come to the conclusion that using a smart air quality monitor has its advantages. In addition to detecting and alerting you about air pollution in your home, it’s also set up to immediately rectify the situation through IFTTT.
Also, Foobot recently announced support for Nest and Amazon Echo. This means you’ll be able to get an air quality report by asking Alexa, and the Foobot can automatically adjust your home’s ventilation based on the findings.
Shipping for $199, this smart, connected indoor air monitor could potentially change your quality of life. There aren’t too many devices you can say that about these days.